Provident Realty case pits SBC against each otherApr 22nd, 2011 | By William Dilella | Category: Top Story
The ongoing construction at Provident Realty’s sites for the four proposed apartment complexes led the St. Bernard Parish Council to convene a special meeting on April 12, to discuss potential legal avenues.
Accusations were abound about who had pledged their support for the apartments. President Craig Taffaro and other council members maintained their opposition to these apartment complexes.
The agenda was amended to hear discussion on Councilman At-Large East Wayne Landry’s proposal for an emergency ordinance, former that would bring the former Chapter 22 zoning regulations into effect. These codes were in place before the December 2009 changes, when the Council rezoned the parish in an attempt to block Provident Realty’s construction.
The ordinance discussed by Landry, #117-12-09, was repealed at the last Council meeting on April 5. The public hearing to repeal was held in response to Judge Ginger Berrigan’s ruling, which carried the threat of hefty fines if the parish persisted in that course of action.
“This ordinance will merely replace a replacement ordinance…I don’t know if that makes a difference, but certainly to avoid any other problems, it’s not a bad idea,” Councilman Mike Ginart Jr., District D, commented.
The Council officially passed the ordinance reverting back to Chapter 22 at its regular Council Meeting on April 19. The Chapter 22 laws were comprehensively updated in 2009.
Just as the council was set to enter the executive session scheduled as item one for the agenda, Councilman George Cavignac, District B, called for the floor. “You have people who have been boxed out in this fight,” Cavignac said, calling for the Council to hold an open session before the residents in attendance. “People need to know the facts of the tenuous fight against these apartments.”
Councilman Cavignac then asserted that the reason Provident Realty had made it so far into the application process for the permits and for the tax credits was because of the support of the administration and from certain council members. Specifically mentioned was Councilman Ray Lauga, District A.
“[So] on the Tax Credit Application, they probably did have what they considered local government support in their application,” Cavignac said.
Responding, President Craig Taffaro said the administration had never been for the proposed apartments.
“The facts of the matter are that the Meraux Foundation was told that this was not a good idea,” said President Taffaro. “Provident did ask me to endorse the project, in fact, sent me a form letter for me to sign, and I refused to sign, because I did not support them.”
“To answer the question whether or not there was infrastructure [i.e. roads, sewers, water, etc.], absolutely, that letter was done,” said Taffaro.
A copy of a letter, dated October 9, 2008, was provided to The St. Bernard Voice, titled “Re: Proposed Apartment Communities- Magnolia Park, Parc Place, Riverview, The Woodlands to be located in St. Bernard Parish.” The letter was addressed to Mr. Milton Bailey, President of the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency, and was signed by Mr. Taffaro.
It reads, “As Parish President, I am familiar with the four proposed developments by Provident Realty Advisors, Inc. The parish government has the infrastructure necessary to support these projects in its water, sewer, municipal waste pick up, roadways, police and fire protection, and basic EMS services.” And goes on to say, “St. Bernard looks forward to the [Louisiana Finance] Agency’s decision on these projects to coordinate our recovery accordingly.”
Mr. Taffaro had said publicly that this letter was not an endorsement, but a required notice about necessary infrastructure.
In a written statement, President Taffaro said, “A comment on the current (or at that time) level of infrastructure is a simple factual basis of our community’s recovery in reestablishing basic services. Certainly, it would be futile and unproductive to state that obvious infrastructure that was present was not. This same infrastructure is what was also being used to convey our recovery for businesses such as Walmart to reopen as well as other business investors.”
Sent with the copy of the letter to The St. Bernard Voice were four separate documents, dictating an agreement between the St. Bernard Parish Housing Authority and Matt Harris, the developer. Mr. Taffaro signed all four documents. The non-binding documents stated that the St. Bernard Housing Authority would refer potential renters to Provident Realty’s locations.
Mr. Taffaro responded, “As I have stated publically on several occasions, while I oppose the projects, if the projects were to be built, I absolutely want our residents to have access and would expect that our St. Bernard residents, including the senior population who would qualify, would be referred for this housing. It would be ludicrous not to have our own residents who have a vested interest in the St. Bernard community and the quality of life in St. Bernard reside in these developments.”
President Taffaro also said in a separate statement that he had met with officials from the LHFA to express his opposition and request that the organization pull the credits for the apartments. The LHFA took no such action.
President Taffaro later went on record against the complexes at a LHFA Board Meeting.
Part of Councilman Lauga’s platform has been upgrading the building standards in his district and for the parish.
“I was never for the apartments,” Lauga said. “The moratorium was put in place, because… it was originally presented to me as one development and all of a sudden it was four developments.”
Matt Harris, the developer for the apartments, had previously testified that Councilman Lauga was putting the moratorium through as a delay tactic.
In his testimony, Harris stated, “[Lauga] said the moratorium was a necessary step that we needed to put in place to buy some time because of the public outcry against the apartments, the moratorium would help us buy time until we could work out some design guidelines and criteria…”
“That is an outright lie,” said Lauga. “He was paraphrasing what I was trying to do as far as the building standards,” Lauga said, which was his initial interest in the project. “But then once I realized I was being misled, I went ahead and put the moratorium in place because I didn’t want those to go through without the building standards in place anyway.”
Projects in jeopardy
Councilman Landry also stated in this session that all the federal money allocated to the parish could be in jeopardy depending on the action taken by the parish government.
“I just don’t want people to think we traded the hospital for the projects,” Landry said.
Landry also suggested that the proper course of action may be to find alternatives to replace the federal funding.
“In my opinion, they can keep their money if they’re going to try and run our council, because in my opinion, I think we can get along with out them,” Landry said.
The Council then went into executive session. After meeting in private, The Council took no further action in the matter.
As the Council went to executive session, residents were yelling, “Reverse, please!”